The Manufacturing Industry: Building Back Fast

Despite turbulence caused by labor and supply chain challenges, the manufacturing industry is experiencing a positive trajectory as it recovers from the pandemic.


Admittedly, when one thinks of manufacturing, Florida isn’t always top of mind. But it needs to be! And nowhere in the Sunshine State is that more true than in the Ocala Metro located in the heart of the state.

But can I find a workforce?

Ocala, FL
Companies including Amazon (above), AutoZone, Chewy, FedEx Ground, McLane, and Dollar Tree have opened new distribution facilities in the Ocala Metro area. (Photos: Top, Bryce Morrison; bottom, Sullivan Hogan)

If the Ocala Metro is not on your company’s search radar, it needs to be! The Ocala Metro is unique in Florida with its strong manufacturing base. With more than double the workforce percentage engaged in manufacturing compared to the state, this is an area which understands and can meet the workforce needs of manufacturers. This strong percentage means the local A-rated school system, Marion Technical College, and College of Central Florida are all acutely focused on the needs of manufacturers. This training covers the span of needed programs from welding to industrial maintenance to the only FANUC Robotics center in Florida. The workforce you need is being trained in the Ocala Metro.

The workforce is not only trained but it is rapidly growing—literally on a daily basis. The Ocala Metro’s population currently exceeds 380,000 people and is the 6th fastest growing metro in the nation according to US News & World Reports. The area will exceed 400,000 in less than three years. You may think Florida is for retirees (it does love its retirees) but the fastest growing segment locally is 30– to 39-year-olds. The growing economy—along with plenty of sunshine and no personal income tax—makes the Ocala area a natural for relocating talent from throughout the nation and the world.

But are they really manufacturing?

So, what are manufacturers in the Ocala Metro producing? Just about anything you can imagine. Lockheed Martin is the largest local manufacturing employer, producing missile control systems to help keep our country safe. They are closely followed by the REV Fire Group, which is based in Ocala and has its largest manufacturing division in the community. Fire engines and missile systems—now that is an unbeatable combination! Other major products manufactured locally include laminated glass, industrial dryers, windows, power solutions, medical devices, and cake sprinkles.

But can I distribute my products?

Located at the crossroads of the Florida peninsula, the Ocala Metro is crossed by I-75 and is met by US Hwy. 301 and just north of the Florida Turnpike. These intersections create the connectivity to service Florida’s 22 million-and-growing population as well as providing ease of access to lower Southeast United States.

Are logistics important to your business?

The all-important one-day truck drive (6 hours each way) reaches 34 million people when centered on Ocala. This is a 39% premium over the I-4 corridor and connects Atlanta to Miami. This key logistical fact is a primary reason companies like Amazon, AutoZone, Chewy, FedEx Ground, McLane, and Dollar Tree have opened new distribution facilities in the area in just the last few years.

But can I find a site to build a facility?

With nearly 2000 acres of fully infrastructured, ready-to-develop industrial sites, your business can find the site it needs today. Ocala prides itself on delivering facilities and permits almost as quickly as it can speed your logistics. Expediting permitting is not only a goal but a standard operating procedure with local governments committed to partnering to ensure you are spending time and capital on actually constructing facilities and not battling city hall. Shovel-ready sites in the Metro are truly that—shovel ready.

But can I find an existing facility?

Currently, the Ocala Metro has more than 5 million square feet of spec industrial under construction or in the works. From rear-load multi-tenant space to 1+ million square feet of premium cross-dock interstate frontage, your next building is already in development in the Ocala Metro.

But how stable is the local economy?

Finally, the Ocala Metro is not only growing but it is stable. The logistics and manufacturing sectors coupled with the health care, IT, and equine communities (Ocala is the Horse Capital of the World®), and you can see why the local unemployment rate is well below the state and national averages. In fact, the Ocala Metro is one of only a handful to grow jobs through the pandemic. The more jobs created, the more people relocate to this community, the more opportunity for you to find your next workforce.

But who should I talk to?

Bart Rowland, Director of Job Creation at the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership. “Ocala’s manufacturing sector is evolving, thanks to a new focus on advanced technology,” he says. “We are seeing companies implementing advanced robotics to increase quality and efficiency, training employees high-level skills that impact their bottom line and help retain talent, and expanding their reach into new international markets. Ocala manufacturers have also built new local relationships, providing more stability and partly avoiding the disruption caused by the global supply chain issues.” Rowland can be contacted at the local Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership office.

(This section was written by Kevin T. Sheilley, President/CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership.)